"Garden of Hope: Autobiography of a Marriage" by Maryanne and Lennox Raphael
Titusville, New Jersey 2006.
Trade paper, 221 pages.
Lennox and Maryanne Raphael were extremely connected from the beginning of their courtship and subsequent marriage that took place in exotic regions of Mexico and Central and South America in the early 1960s. An interracial couple, the story of their 11 year marriage, is told in "Garden of Hope: Autobiography of a Marriage" from both of their points of view.
This unusual and intriguingly successful dual autobiography written long after their marriage ended in divorce in the early 1970s reveals that they are still uniquely connected. Each writes passages under their own names, usually in tandem. The book ends soon after the birth of their son, Raphael, a day after Christmas in 1968. This work is dedicated to their son and his new family in more ways than just the words in the frontispiece. Over the dedication "For Raphael, Ginger and Zeal" is a photo of them. As divorce is often most difficult for the child, this book could also be looked at as a loving explanation that they all participated in. The son, Raphael, now, in his late 30s, wrote the foreword. He speaks gratefully of being able to share in their beatific romantic moments when they came together as a couple. He is also able to understand some of the problems that led to their divorce. He is glad they live in the present having never allowed their problems, that seemed so huge at the time, to destroy their future Being too young to have remembered them together, he is grateful "to find a forgotten snapshot of [his] parents in love." He notes with happiness that today they are still "optimistic, exceptional and bubbling with creative enthusiasm."
"Garden of Hope" concentrates on the high points of their marriage. Perhaps a new genre is born here, The Raphael's union began in the earliest and perhaps most difficult days of the 1960s, well before the assassinations of President John F, Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy. And at the threshold of Flower Power, Black Power and The Summer of Love.
The young couple, in their early 20s, met in Kingston, Jamaica, in April of 1961 and came together almost at once. Lennox was a Trinidadian journalist who was building a career having left a local newspaper in his hometown to take a job with a magazine in Kingston. Maryanne, a more than promising scholarship student at Ohio University, had joined a Black sorority as the sole white person and for that was featured in Ebony Magazine and on the cover of Jet magazine, the two major African American magazines of the time. She had graduated with the highest of honors and won a scholarship to the Sorbonne (in part for a manuscript written in French). She completed the program and traveled through Europe. In 1961 she was in the West Indies living on her own.
After a rather whirlwind courtship that was based on an intense meeting of their minds and spirits and complete truthfulness, they married in Tampico, Mexico and for the next several months were never apart. They lived on very little money. On a whim they traveled to Brazil where they had many adventures and became well known as poets and painters, even to the point of appearing on TV. But they had insights about Brazil as well where there would be a particular South American surprise twist to their own interracial marriage:
In fact, we found the Brazilian boast of racial equality very shallow. . . . both black and white Brazilians praised their country as a racial utopia and loved to point the accusing finger at the United States where, in fact, its citizens (fellow Americans) were making active progress towards racial understanding. . . . Much unlike Brazil where (we were assured by many) the cosmic solution for all racial problems was for blacks to marry some one as light as possible so their children would be lighter than they were; and would in turn marry lighter until the dilution process had eliminated Africa as a recognizable identity.
They topped their south of the border adventures by traveling across the southern United States by bus at the height of the Civil Rights movement -- and not once, but twice! They both seem to have had a guileless naiveté that may have helped to protect them from suffering any outrageous consequences of their actions. These adventures were witnessed by Greyhound passengers and the mysterious local policemen who appeared, seemingly, out of nowhere to silently accompany them as they waited in white waiting rooms (this was still the late Jim Crow era when there were separate facilities in the South for blacks and whites).
Maryanne Raphael writes eloquently of the inequality of those facilities personally experienced when she had traveled alone through the southern United States. By insisting on staying in the black sections her unusual positioning made it possible for her to go back and forth between the black and white Jim Crow facilities. When Maryanne and other women were in need of sanitary napkins; she was urged to go into the white facilities.
At this particular stop, the Blacks were forced to use two outhouses, one for men and one for women: and they were lined up around the corner. However, the Whites had a large waiting room with enough toilets for thirty women. They even had showers for 25 cents. And, of course, vending machines for Kotex, or Tampax, as the white women chose; and for toothpaste, deodorant, combs, perfume, etc.
For some, those physical aspects of American history may be a surprise and could be in danger of being lost to public cognizance.
But it would also be in Brazil where Maryanne had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for some weeks. Looking back they both admit it was the very beginning of the end of their marriage. But it would take years to jell. Lennox, having to be very careful with Maryanne and watch her and protect her from being institutionalized again, gladly took on that role as a young husband. But he had to admit, looking back, that that began to wear away the youthful blush of their young love. It was very interesting to get a retrospect point of view throughout a quite moving love story.
After her recovery in Brazil they traveled to meet his family in Trinidad and then on to Waverly, Ohio in southern Appalachia to meet her family. If the breakdown in Brazil was the beginning assault on their union it just may have been the interaction with her strictly catholic family that was the most difficult to bear.
There were childhood memories regarding African Americans that she had confided to Lennox early in their courtship that gives some indication of the state of that region and some of the conflicts that came from their visit.
She had told of "some of the terrible games that sought, unsuccessfully, to shape my life." She had resisted those forces that "would make me a faceless, formless, conscienceless white American girl of catholic upbringing."
When we went swimming, someone always shouted, 'Last one in is a nigger baby!' And we would scramble head over heels because nobody, even me, wanted to be a nigger baby.
We kids never made a choice without counting, 'Eanie, Meany, Minny Moe, catch a nigger by the toe; if he hollers let him go ... '
We learned very early to spin our superstitions around Blacks, Whenever two kids started picking on one, the solitary one would say, 'Two on one is a nigger's fun.'
Whenever someone made an unpopular or uncalled for suggestion, he was told, 'No remarks from the colored section,' and we all would laugh ourselves to tears and wet pants.
The grownups, like my father and uncles and the teenagers around said, 'I'm sweating like a nigger at election,' or if someone took a drag of their cigarette and wet it, he was told, 'Stop nigger-lipping my smoke.'
Ohio was an essential territory of the underground railroad for slaves seeking freedom, often from the southern border states of Kentucky and West Virginia. Some of the sayings that got into the lexicon dealt directly with the heritage of slavery and the social conditioning, especially during the formative years of white children. This was necessary to perpetrate "the peculiar institution," and the subsequent institutionalization of racism. But there were other institutions that were also problematic.
They had given her parents the impression that Lennox was Catholic and that they had been married in the church. During their visit they confessed to her parents that they had had a non-Catholic wedding. But to Catholics and those from many other religions as well, to marry outside of the church is tantamount to not being married at all.
Maryanne's parents were of that conviction.
The young interracial couple struggled through the two week visit, and then came to New York City, where they would begin to realize their goals as writers, and embrace a community that accepted them as they were. Brief mention is made if their involvement with the Umbra Workshop and with Lennox's important work for the East Village Other, an influential weekly newspaper of the time.
One of his most memorable assignments was to cover Martin Luther King's funeral. Their son was conceived during that time. Amusingly enough Maryanne became the first pregnant "Slum Goddess" in EVO. And as a result became a well paid model for medical magazines where she was photographed in her ninth month completely in the nude. It is too bad those photos are not in "Garden of Hope".
But there are decent photos of the attractive young lovers in this surprisingly delightful and fulfilling book. Looking back, both have produced significant works and their impressive literary activities continue. Maryanne Rafael has intriguing books about Mother Theresa, among many others, and Lennox Raphael, who now resides in Copenhagen, continues to write poetry and plays, and work within artistic organizations. His ground-breaking play "Che," is significant in theater history, especially in relationship to the City of New York in the 1960s.
"Garden of Hope" is certainly a successful collaborative autobiography and could be an inspirational model in many ways.
Perhaps it will encourage more couples to write the stories of their romance.